On the issue of releasing certificates to former students with unpaid school fees balances, I support the stand taken by the Kenya Secondary School Heads Association (KSSHA).
I happen to be the Chairperson of the Board of Governors (BOG) for a large boarding public school with a population of 570 students. It is very difficult for most BOGs to provide boarding facilities and basic amenities to a highly demanding adolescent population if their parents do not pay fees in good time.
High School students will demand good facilities and expensive food; eggs, bread, meat, fruits, mandazi etc even when they have huge fees balances.
The BOG, principal and teachers are always faced with the threat of violent riots any time food rations are reduced or the ‘sweet’ expensive things are removed from the menu. And yes, suppliers of food item and laboratory implements have been known to sue and levy distress on public schools. Public schools cannot be run for free; they are not charitable organisations to house and feed adolescents for free. This is why timely collection of fees is a serious matter.
Even with the current fees subsidy system, the government is always late in releasing funds, hampering school programs in a very big way each and every term.
The fees are not owed to the principals/head-teachers but to BOGs and School Management Committees who also get sued for debts. Principals/head-teachers are just secretaries and agents of BOGs. They implement decisions of BOGs. This is the law under the Education Act.
The schools are registered examination centers on behalf of the Kenya Examinations Council and they hold onto certificates as lien for unpaid fees. This Government has just given a reason to parents to start avoiding or refusing to pay fees without consulting key stakeholders in the education sector. The chaos that will resort from this badly thought out policy will be felt soon; you can expect violent strikes in public schools very soon.
The current government does not seem to have learnt from the lessons learnt in June and July 2008 when almost all public schools in the country were hit with a spate of violent strikes over boarding facilities and basic amenities. The Cabinet Secretary and technocrats in the Ministry of Education are not helping matters; they are playing politics and misadvising the President and his Deputy.
As an educationist and a legal practitioner, I advise all the principals/head-teachers of public schools to defy this directive and hold on to examination certificates unless and until all the outstanding fees balances have been paid. The law is clearly on their side.
[Capt. (Rtd) Wanderi is the chairperson, Board of Governors Mweru High School in Nyeri County]